AS an owner of an Ergodox EZ and a Planck EZ, I am basically an expert on mechanical keyboards as well as ergonomics. As such, I bethought it jurisprudent of me to review the latest addition to my mechanical arsenal: the System76 Launch.

KeyboardMy new mechanical acquisition.

I was excited to buy this keyboard for two reasons. The first? The unique layout, with accessible thumb modifier keys and a split spacebar.

And the second? That would be the availability of Box Jade keyswitches as a stock option, the sound of which I fell in love with the first time I heard them.

So how does this keyboard hold up in practical use? Let’s walk and talk.

The Layout

The Optimal Layout

As the world’s best Emacs user, I have long ago come up with the best possible layout for keyboards:

  1. Use QWERTY and a regular staggered key layout.
  2. Bind CAPS to super, as described in this seminal article.
  3. Use the modifier keys on the side of the spacebar by curling your thumbs in.

With these tips you will be:

  1. More productive than anyone else except me,
  2. Have near-instant compatibility with almost all keyboards with minimal configuration
  3. Avoid issues like “Emacs pinky” and RSI since you are not using your pinkies for ctrl.

Simple, yet I’ve never seen anyone else describe such a setup, so I take full credit.

The Launch Layout

Up until I saw the Launch, I was just using the keyboard on my Apple Macbook Pro 16-inch or the Apple Magic Keyboard. (I had given up on my experiments with the Ergodox and Planck a long time ago.)

The Apple keyboards feature command (remapped to ctrl) and option keys accessible with a minimal amount of thumb curl on both sides of the spacebar.

MountainsA fantastic view..

The Launch was so appealing to me because, like the Apple keyboards, it lends itself perfectly to my modus operandus. It is one of the few mechanical keyboards that both has a sane key layout (i.e. not a grid) and also very accessible thumb modifiers (the Ergodox actually fails spectacularly on this front).

(And the Launch is rather portable, which I didn’t mention above but is also an important component to my lifestyle – though not as portable as a Magic keyboard.)

The Split Spacebar

When I saw the split spacebar, my interest was peaked. It basically gives you a whole modifier key for free, unless you happen to have trained yourself to use the space bar with both thumbs (which I haven’t yet). You can use the extra space bar as another super key, for example, or as backspace.

I personally won’t be using it for anything, honestly. I don’t want to develop muscle memory that is not compatible with other keyboards. It is really cool, though, and it makes me wonder why every other keyboard has such unnecessarily large space bars. They seem antiquated and archaic, to my wandering eyes.

Box Jades

I’ve never had a very clicky keyboard. Both my Ergodox and Planck housed middle-of-the-road browns and bronzes.

I didn’t think I’d like loud, clicky keys, but the browns/bronzes were really boring. I loved the sound of the Box Jades on Youtube, and when I perchance saw them as one of the two stock options for the Launch – well, I just had to try them.

My impressions? They are exceedingly fun. They are a bit heavy and hard to type on coming from Apple keyboards, but I’m getting used to that fast.

The only other stock keyswitch the Launch comes with is Box Navies, which also look fairly cool and are highly-rated, if you would like something less clicky.

Other Considerations

The Build Quality

This is an important consideration because I like solid pieces of equipment. It’s one of the many reasons I still use an Apple laptop as opposed to any other brand.

The Launch most assuredly does not disappoint on this front. It is very solidly built. Bottoming out the keys makes a nice deep sound which pairs wonderfully with the perfect clicky sound of the Box Jades.

The Launch is a bit on the heavy side, and it is big and not as portable as a Magic keyboard, but it doesn’t have too much extraneous stuff like a numpad and is not a monstrosity like the Ergodox so it is still fairly portable. I do wish it didn’t have the unnecessary F keys, but nothing is ever perfect.

sunsetA fantastic sunset.

The Configurator

The configurator configuration software which configures the keyboard layout configuration is pretty good. I much preferred it to the Ergodox EZ configurator.

The Launch software was intuitive, responsive and I made my changes quickly without any fuss. Kudos on this front – and back.

Other Considerations

  • This keyboard also features RGB lighting, which looks cool. It’s not something I care about – but it’s a cool bonus.
  • There were some extra keys included in the box, which was another pleasant bonus. I swapped out the colors for my arrow keys, which by default were a rather uninspired brown color.

Final Thoughts

All things considered, this is a fantastic pre-built keyboard featuring amazing switches (though not many options for the switches).

It is time for me to give my final Bytedude Score:

76/77